[INDOLOGY] Satirical criticism in Sanskrit literature and philosophy?

Nagaraj Paturi nagarajpaturi at gmail.com
Wed Jan 14 19:00:56 UTC 2015

Since the purpose is to  pay a tribute to freedom of critical expression,

Questions of

    HOW was satirical criticism in ancient, classical India RECEIVED?

    Did anyone suffer on account of critical views expressed in Sanskrit?

Seem to be more central to this discussion.

To answer to this question ,

We can divide the possibility of ‘punishment’ for criticising into four
kinds: When the criticised is

       1. a king

       2. a god /the God

       3. Entire society, a certain occupational  caste or other social

       4. A school of philosophy, or an academic discipline

*A king*: That the kings were open to satire targeting them is the image at
least as reflected in the folk narratives of Bhoja-Kalidasa, Akbar-Birbal,
Krishnadevaraya-Tenalirama formula.

There is an interesting narrative which depicts just the opposite of the
Sanskrit-Prakrit division between genders depicted by the Sanskrit Drama.
It is the highly popular ‘modakaistaaDaya’ story. The king is mocked at
here too. This narrative was allowed to get created and get passed on in
the tradition.

*A god/ the God* : 1. Demon characters and other such anti-god characters
are made to speak through satires targeting a god/the God. Usually such
criticisms are ‘answered’ inside the narrative itself. Many poems narrating
these stories used the instrument of vyaajastuti during such ridicules by
the demon side. Such employment of vyaajastuti has a vairabhakti theory
involved too. The demons ridiculing the God through satire are either
considered to be ‘punished’ or in the case of Vairabhakti model narratives,
the same ridicule through satire is considered to be a disguised path of
devotion and is considered to be ‘rewarded’. Both the depictions are
received with a devotional attitude as either examples of what not to do or
interesting occurrences not meant to be emulated.

2. Sometimes there is an auto-criticism through auto-satire resorted to by
the disguised gods/ God to ‘test’ the ‘lover’/devotee characters
love/devotion. An example is S’iva’s criticism of himself in front of
Parvati in his disguise as an old man. Parvati answers all the criticisms.
One of the theorizations made to explain such portions of narratives is
that the narrator incorporates this in order to answer the rival
philosophical schools whose arguments he puts into the mouth of the
self-criticising God. These are received as entertainingly educative
debates/ conversations.

3. Playful satires by the poet-singers and poets in their intimately
affectionate devotional lyrics. There is frequently vyaajastuti employed
here too. These are received as highly entertaining expressions of intimate
feelings towards the God.

4. Satires in the spiritual but not
mythological/devotional/idol-worshipping yet ‘Hindu’ traditional lyrics.
These too are not opposed. These are either overlooked by the
mythological/devotional/idol-worshipping traditions as an equally valid but
not their favourite tradition. Followers of the tradition to which the
lyrics enjoy the fun in the satire and the criticism.

*Social Criticism: *Society receives this without any opposition probably
because everyone looks at it as not targeting himself/herself personally.

*A school of philosophy, or an academic discipline : *These satires
interestingly take almost the form of proverbs of the learned and most of
the times function as memorizing tools for certain crucial but difficult
concepts of the discipline or school of thought. A student of a discipline
or a school of thought enjoys these satires targeting his own favourite
discipline or school.

Thanks for your patience.


Prof.Nagaraj Paturi

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